Tomatoes for the south
Tomato varieties for the Southeastern USA are pretty wide-open for most locations, but there are certain considerations. I thought I’d start some posts about tomato varieties well-suited for different locations around the USA. And this, my first post, is on the Southeastern USA.
What is the South East?
Well, here are the boundaries I’m considering the Southeast:
- South of Virginia on the eastern seaboard
- East of Texas
- South of Kentucky in the middle part of the USA.
- I’ll include Arkansas, but exclude Missouri.
So now that we know the boundaries, what tomato varieties are good for this area? Let’s consider the two things common to Summer in most of these locations.
While a little of both are great for growing tomatoes, too much of a good thing spells bad news for your eventual fruits. So what kind of problems do the heat and humidity cause in the Southeastern USA?
Yikes! There’s a Fungus Among Us!
Unfortunately, fungus thrives in humid locations without good air circulation. Diseases related to fungal infections include alternaria, blights, gray leaf spot, fusarium wilt, damping off, verticillium wilt, mold….you get the idea.
If you are finding a lot of fungal infections in your plants, you’ll want to at least think about some hybrid tomato varieties that are more resistant to these problems. You’ll recognize them by the letters after the tomato name; they include:
- A – alternaria
- F – fusarium wilt strain I
- FF – fusarium wilt strain I & II
- V – verticillium wilt
So for example, if you look at the description for the tomato variety called Big Beef, you’ll see the letters VF1F2TNA, which means the tomato is resistant to alternaria, both strain 1 and 2 of fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus (the “T”) and nematodes (the “N”).
Other hybrid tomato varieties with good fungal resistance include:
- Applause (ASCF1F2StV)
- Celebrity (VF1F2NTASt)Â (one of my favorite hybrids)
- Country Taste (F1F2TV)
- Fabulous (VF1F2TASt)
- Razzleberry (VF1F2)
So this gives you an idea of what to look at when evaluating one of the tomato hybrids. (In addition to taste, of course.)
Other Tomato Diseases
Unfortunately, fungal diseases aren’t the only ones to threaten our homegrown tomatoes. We also have to worry about bacterial diseases (bacterial speck, spot, wilk, canker, fruit rot, etc.). And if that wasn’t bad enough, we have nematodes and viral diseases. It’s a wonder that we have any tomatoes at all!
The chances of bacterial diseases can be greatly reduced by careful mulching, as it’s the bacteria in the soil that causes problems. Nematodes…well, if you have them in the soil, the best thoughts would be to either plant your tomatoes in containers (using potting soil) and/or plant hybrids that are resistant to nematodes. Viral diseases can also be present – yikes!
(You may want to read the post on tomato diseases to become more familiar with these banes to growing tomatoes.)
What About Heirloom Tomatoes?
Sure, you can grow heirlooms! Just keep in mind that because they since they don’t have all those extra letters after their name, you’ll not know right off the bat what kind of resistance a variety has. You’ll need to be more on the lookout for any problems. Make sure your plants have plenty of air circulation (without being too windy), mulch the soil and consider growing in containers if you have a problem with nematodes. Oh, and don’t splash water on the plants when watering.
If you live in a location where it’s hot but not necessarily humid, you have more wiggle room in the summer. But of it’s really hot, you’ll want to pick tomato varieties that set fruits when many days go well over 90 degrees. The big beefsteaks are usually a little more trouble in this respect, compared to the tomatoes which grow to be less than 8 ounces.
Heirlooms that seem to do well in the southeast heat and humidity are:
- Cherokee Purple
- Black Krim
- Black Prince
- Clear Pink Early
- Just about any cherry tomato
Where I live in South Florida, I try to grow most of my heirloom tomatoes on the “shoulders” of the season. In other words, I do my best to avoid having the fruit trying to set between mid-July and mid-August, when it’s the hottest. This may mean starting the seeds earlier than normal so I can get the seedling plants outside at the first possible moment.
If you live in the (really) Deep South, it’s time to plant seeds soon for a Spring crop. If you live in the frigid North, it’s time to buy those seeds for starting in just a few short months.
Yep, it’s time to think tomatoes!
Planting a Tomato Garden in the South
If you live in the really southern part of the US (like I do in S Florida), you can plant your seeds soon (even right now) or even find tomato plants at your local garden center. I planted a bunch of seeds yesterday, in preparation of a Spring crop of ripe tomatoes. But since it still can get chilly and I can even have a touch of frost where I live, I plant my tomatoes in containers. This way, if frost is in the forecast, I can move the plants into the garage for the night.
Right now I have three tomato plants of three different varieties in 5-gallon pots, one having blossoms. Seeing as it’s Winter, I have them in a spot where they can get full sunlight from about 11 am to 4 pm. I also have six more tomato seed varieties that I planted yesterday. Right now, my well-grown plants are:
- A determinate red medium-sized tomato (the one with flowers) called Patio – photo above.
- An indeterminate bicolor tomato called Mr. Stripey.
- An indeterminate really big red beefsteak tomato called Park’s Whopper.
So, if you live in the Deep South, it’s time to start your tomato seeds indoors between now and the end of January (depending on how far north on the Deep South you live). The seedlings can then be transplanted outside as soon as all danger of frost is past. You can find tomato seeds in local garden centers as well as online. I have to admit, online is my favorite way to get seeds.
A special note to anyone like me who lives in Florida; as you well know, our summers are hot & humid and the sunshine very strong. Summer in Florida really isn’t the best time of year to grow tomatoes. I’ll cover more about tomato-growing in the summer in Florida in a different post.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones
No matter where you live, know what plant hardiness zone you live in. Here’s a link to where you can put in your zip code, and you’ll get your zone.
Like I said, local climate plays into this. You can live in the Mid South, but if you are gardening at altitude (like around the Smokey Mountains), your zone will be colder than if you were growing in a more coastal environment.
Tomato Gardens in the North
Time to get those seeds! Since you won’t be planting them right away, you have a little time to peruse your tomato variety options a bit more. You probably don’t have seeds available in garden centers yet, but you can browse and order them online.
So what seeds do you buy? It really depends on your climate, and how long and warm your summers. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, I’d choose a tomato that sets fruit early. The cooler Summer climate means it will take longer than average to grow those tomatoes until they are ripe on the vine, which is why you need an early-producing tomato. Some varieties you could try include Early Girl, Matina, Stupice, Early Wonder.
If you live in a climate with a pretty warm and sunny late Spring and Summer, you can grow both early and mid-season varieties. You can try a later-season beefsteak if you can grow your tomatoes in a greenhouse or indoors under grow lights and have good-sized plants ready to go outside as soon as the last frost is past. Some mid-season tomatoes varieties to think about include Better Boy, Big Beef, Eva Purple Ball, Sioux.
So those are some ideas for your tomato garden. It’s time to either plant seeds or buy seeds, so you can have luscious, vine ripe tomatoes as soon as possible!